President Obama had reached the midpoint of his nearly 40-minute speech to the UN General Assembly Wednesday morning before arriving at that critical junction: Israel and Palestine.
After ticking off a number of successful global political changes, including the Sudan, Cte D’Ivoire, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, as well as the death of Osama bin Laden, Obama noted the challenges ahead in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Iran.
“Peace is hard,” he stated, words he repeated throughout his speech, “but it is possible.”
What looms as less than possible is a sustained accord between Israel and the Palestinians. This, Obama said, would be the real test of the principles that are at the heart of the United Nations’ charter on human rights.
The Palestinians, he insisted, “deserve a state of their own.” But Obama also stressed that the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security is “unshakable.”
Without using the word veto, which on other occasions has been promised by the Obama administration if the Palestinian Authority and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, submit an application for statehood, he stood by the “two-state solution.”
“Each side has legitimate aspirations,” Obama said of the Israelis and the Palestinians. He stressed that they must learn “to walk in each other’s shoes,” remarks that didn’t go over too well with one of the Palestinian delegates, who shook his head at the suggestion.
Despite a year of dramatic political changes, Obama expressed his frustration at the stalemate between Israel and the Palestine Authority, which may get worse before the week is over, if Abbas goes ahead with his bid for statehood.
A U.S. veto in the Security Council would force Abbas to take his case to the General Assembly, whose vote, if affirmative, would grant the Palestinians only observer status.
Slithering through the apparent disconnect between the Obama administration and Israel are the Republicans, particularly presidential candidate Gov. Rick Perry, who charged that Obama’s stance on Israel is “nave, arrogant, misguided and dangerous.”
Other detractors view Obama’s position on Libya and Palestine as hypocritical, as he supports the creation of a new state in Libya but denies Palestinian statehood.
Obama said “the tide of war is receding,” and promised to cut by half the 180,000 troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan as of last year.
“Yes, peace is hard,” he said, “but people demand…a lasting peace with a sense of justice.”
After his speech, Obama had plans to meet separately with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.